Originating as a series chronicling David Gordon’s return to the Legend of the Five Rings CCG after a several year absence, Dave of the Five Rings continued on as he examined the current and future of the iconic world of Rokugan until the game’s sale to FFG in 2015.
Chapter 22: Beyond The Event Horizon
Has it already been nearly two years?
On September 11th, 2015, Alderac Entertainment Group announced the unanticipated sale of the Legend of the Five Rings brand to Fantasy Flight Games. This announcement caught the greater community of L5R players entirely off guard, as preparations for the build towards Onyx Edition under AEG was already in the works. At this point in the cycle, players had been given an entirely new level of Storyline Control with community-focused Story Path votes. The CCG expansion Evil Portents had already been printed and was on its way to distributors. The interactive storyline of L5R had reached a peak with a Mantis Clan victory at Gen Con allowing a Black Scroll to be used on Yoritomo (the Mantis Clan founder himself) to pay for the champion’s car repair bill. The Emerald Empire faced a foe unlike any other, and the Realm of Evil stood ready to be unleashed on Rokugan in ways it never had in the past.
And then, quite abruptly, it all just stopped.
In a deal at the time known only to the innermost circles of AEG and FFG, the entire Legend of the Five Rings license was sold to Fantasy Flight Games to be turned into a Living Card Game and re-released at Gen Con 2017. The announcement was unexpected and closely guarded – not even the Design Team, Story Team, or Events Team at AEG knew until it was made public.
No one knew what to expect next. Plans for the Fall 2015 Kotei quickly fell into a nebulous position, and the Evil Portents expansion was given to distributors for free. AEG released a statement, which was later mirrored in a statement from FFG. Through all of this upheaval, however, players developed a semblance of hope that these changes would mean exciting new opportunities for the brand; the community of L5R players eagerly awaited any word from Fantasy Flight Games regarding the new product.
Fantasy Flight Games, as it known to do, has played the cards of its plans for Legend of the Five Rings very close to its chest. Steve Horvath spoke a small amount regarding the game, most notably in an interview with Team Covenant shortly after the sale. Yet other than this, and a few other tidbits here and there, nothing new emerged from Fantasy Flight Games regarding L5R until less than a month ago.
What Of The Interim?
The Legend of the Five Rings community took a great deal of effort maintaining the sense of connection between players, even without any official storyline or events to participate in. On the RPG side, Heroes of Rokugan successfully ran its Nightmare War mini-campaign from 2015 to 2016, and has begun its Champions of the Ivory Throne earlier this year.
Additionally, as I mentioned in my last Dave of the Five Rings articles, a group of Winter Court IV players coordinated their efforts online and successfully launched the unofficial Winter Court V, set 17 years after the events at the end of the canon storyline.
It ran its full length, seeing a sizable player base from all over the world. I was fortunate enough to participate in it as the old Legend of the Five Rings: Love Letter character, Togashi Gozato. I spent most of Winter Court V grumbling at the young samurai about how their generation is ruining the Empire and how much better things were before.
The Modern L5R format also saw active community participation among the CCG players, organized through the Unofficial L5R Facebook group. This style of L5R opens the legality of cards back to the start of the “Modern” L5R era, Samurai Edition.
Popular with many of the long time fans of the CCG, this format allows for the creation of a wide variety of decks out of a robust, iconic card pool. Each faction manages to express its own unique identity in this format, and with the CCG officially a dead game, popularity with the format rose as prices on older expansion sets dropped dramatically as stores sought to get rid of stock fast. L5R Modern had been recognized as an official tournament format just before the sale of the game, and its legacy may likely remain powerful even as the LCG gets released.
(For more information on L5R Modern, its rules and community can be found here.)
On a slightly less positive note, several leaks of both cards and artwork appeared in the community, released by former playtesters and designers of the card game. As these were breaches of NDAs and were unauthorized releases of property belonging to FFG, they were quickly removed from most community sites attempting to stay in FFG’s good graces. Still, enough players saved them from their short period of access and can be found with some effort.
Finally, the Story Team of Legend of the Five Rings bid farewell to the game they had been working on by presenting one final collection of fiction for the fans. Released through Kaze no Shiro, the Story Team presented the events leading up to Onyx Edition, along with a set of stories detailing the defeat and fall of the Emerald Empire. It’s a highly entertaining read, and one I heartily recommend. A final epilogue was released by Shawn Carman afterwards, providing the foundation of the story direction originally sketched out beyond Onyx Edition.
For all their efforts put in during the final days of L5R’s tenure under AEG, I would like to thank the Story Team. In many ways, the final fictions served to give both myself, and the greater L5R community, a proper sense of closure to the story we had participated in for 20 years.
One Door Closes, Another Opens
Starting at Festival International des Jeux in Cannes, France, Fantasy Flight Games has finally begun releasing new information regarding their plans for L5R in 2017. An image appeared online of a poster from that gaming festival, showing a new design for the L5R logo and new clan mons for seven of the Great Clans.
Yes, just seven.
Sparking an immediate reaction from the news starved community, speculation quickly bombarded the person who posted the image, along with demands for any specific information. Very little intel folllowed, but enough appeared to verify the poster shown. With the mon for the Spider Clan and the Mantis Clan both absent, storyline and lore speculation quickly took off. Unfortunately, little can be extrapolated or proved by the lack of their representation, as both a reboot and a continuation of the storyline could result in those factions being absent. The confirmation of the seven existing factions, however, should not be ignored.
About a month later, at GAMA, Fantasy Flight Games was ready to provide more information to the community. Once again, Steve Horvath took point in the presentation, showing a non-finalized box art for the game and answering several key questions. Info gained from this event included:
Above all else, Horvath stated that the Legend of the Five Rings brand was being treated as a flagship product by FFG, similar to their Call of Cthulhu and Twilight Imperium brands.
- Signaling a significant vouch of confidence, Fantasy Flight Games is not underestimating the demand for L5R and have announced that the L5R LCG will be FFG’s largest initial print run to date.
- The LCG will have a complete Organized Play support package, similar to many of FFG’s other games, with in-store organized play support alongside regionals, nationals, and a world championship in November.
- The release date at Gen Con 2017 was again confirmed, and it was confirmed (unsurprisingly) that the LCG would not be compatible with the old CCG.
- Steve Horvath confirmed Nate French (of the A Game of Thrones, Arkham Horror, and Lord of the Rings LCGs) as the lead designer of the game, with co-designers Erik Dahlman and Brad Andres.
- Horvath went on to confirm that there would be an interactive storyline to the game, though it will be handled differently than it was under AEG.
- When asked about a new edition of the RPG, Horvath refused to directly answer the question but clarified that “[FFG] bought this property for more than just doing a card game.”
Finally, the community was given a hard date on when they would be seeing more regarding Legend of the Five Rings LCG. April 19th, 2017 was promised as the day the community would learn, at least, if the storyline was being rebooted or continued from Onyx onward.
As can be expected, the community has been waiting with bated breath for that day to come around and when we can catch our first glimpses of the new L5R. And that day is now nearly upon us.
Now For Some Rampant Speculation
With the first details of the game only days away, I would like to take a moment and respond to my own earlier comments when last we spoke, dear reader. While at that time, I had been a staunch advocate for the storyline of L5R to go forward, I’ve had a year and a half to speak extensively with members of the community, both active and lapsed. I asked them as to their favorite stories, and listened to their favorite pieces of the game. And in doing so, I have changed course, coming around to agreeing with those advocating for the game to return to its roots.
Going back to the time of the Clan Wars would give the L5R LCG the opportunity to take the story through its most iconic period, and give it time to grow again. The original promise of Legend of the Five Rings was a story to be decided at the Second Day of Thunder, and the entire first arc of the game’s storyline all built up to that moment.
Returning to the story of the Clan War would give FFG the ability to make the same promise to its own players, as well as approach it with a more modern sensibility. Letting the story breathe and grow inside the framework of the Clan War would allow for a new generation of players to leave their mark on Rokugan.
Those of us who went through the first 20 years will always have our memories and our stories to tell, but we should not let those get in the way of telling a new story. In many ways, the 20 years of lore within Legend of the Five Rings was a massive barrier to entry in the game. Removing the barrier, and making the promise of L5R accessible to all, will do wonders to sell the game. The time between the sale and Gen Con 2017 has given us the distance to put that story to bed. It is time we started again.
Beyond the storyline and its history, there are certain elements of game play I feel would go a long way to keeping the spirit of L5R alive in the LCG and allow the game to feel like a growth from the original play into something better. These elements contain the strength of the original CCG, where the game stood out from its competitors in terms of play. They are:
- Factions. This is almost a guarantee, but L5R is a game about the Great Clans warring against each other. Factions need to exist within the game, and that needs to impact everything from play style to deck construction. Having a Stronghold which determines the Faction of your deck would be the ideal method for this. Personally, I would also love to see FFG take an opportunity after the first Chapter Pack (or Dynasty Packs, as they will be called) cycle to release pre-constructed Clan Starters, to help boost and sell faction loyalty.
- Two Decks. Part of what made L5R compelling and unique was its two deck approach. In your Dynasty Deck, you had your resources and personalities. In your Fate Deck, you had your strategies and attachments. The split of Resources vs Actions made L5R a very dynamic experience, and very different from other, single-deck games.
Many Paths to Victory. In the original L5R CCG, victory could be achieved through Military, Honor, or Enlightenment. While I feel that the L5R LCG would strongly benefit from a singular passive Victory condition (similar to AGoT LCG’s Power), having different paths to that victory allows for a variation in play style and customization by faction. The Lion Clan should not win the game by the same means as the Crane Clan.
- Back and Forth Actions. The best games of the L5R CCG would involve a nail-bitingly intense interchange of actions between two players. One player would decide to take an action, resolve it completely, then the next player would decide to resolve an action. Back and forth it would go, with the tactical option of passing always being available. This made the feel of an L5R game similar to that of a chess match, watching strategies play out and always adapting in response to your opponent’s action. The depth of this play led to the most satisfying parts of the CCG experience, and should be preserved in the LCG.
These are the elements I feel lie at the core of the best parts of the L5R CCG experience. Preserving them in the new format will allow the game to retain what is best in the old game, and seek news ways forwards.
That is all for now, dear reader. Further speculation, while satisfying, will bring us no closer to the truth. Fantasy Flight Games will continue to keep its secrets tightly, and we will have to wait until April 19th until we know more. So, until that time comes, I hope you have been well, and thank you for checking in.
See you all for the announcement tomorrow!
David Gordon was a regular contributor to the site. A storyteller by trade and avowed tabletop veteran, he also has a long and complicated past with L5R. These were his stories. He can be reached on Twitter.
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